Freetown, Baby!

Room to Grow by jc2010sl
April 6, 2011, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

After a week in Conakry I headed off the coast to the “Iles de Loos” to relax for the weekend. It couldn’t have been a better spot for winding down. Unlike Sierra Leone which subsists on a diet of Western pap, Guinea seems to be a culture suffused with its own music, and very proud of it. This was particularly so on the Ile de Rhoume, where some enterprising local artiste has set up a residential drum and dance school for western enthusiasts. Everyone on the island seems to move to a West African beat. At dinner my companions and I were serenaded by a local band, led by the wide-eyed “One Stone” and his ever-smiling companion.

It was the same story when I strolled round to the school on the other side of the island. The building was transformed into something more akin to a dance hall. Apparently there was some big festival for the end of term, but who knows if this wasn’t a daily occurrence. Either way, the young boys banged out a steady rhythm while the girls threw their moves in the classroom.

They start them young here.


That Sunday Feeling… by mabrajeux
September 26, 2010, 7:27 pm
Filed under: photos, society, travels | Tags: , , , ,

When I first moved to England, I loved the fact that shops are open on Sundays. I mean, what could be better than going shopping on a quiet Sunday when you haven’t had a chance to do in the week, not to mention the fact that you would never have to go milk-less again…
I never really bought the argument that Sundays should be saved up for family time or, in a more general way, non consumerist activities… But then I have to admit that there is something really amazing about the centre of Freetown on a Sunday afternoon.
We wondered there a few weekends ago to check the first church established by settlers in 1792 (that is one of the hazards of living with a historian…) and were completely shocked at what we saw, or rather didn’t see… The pavements, which are bustling with all sorts of vendors and peddlers in the week were entirely deserted and the streets, which are normally rammed full of cars, motorcycles, poda podas and the occasional livestock (check the photo on the home page for an illustration…) were empty but for a group of children playing football!

Cultural syntax by mabrajeux
August 23, 2010, 8:09 pm
Filed under: education, society | Tags: , ,

One morning a week, I work at a great local secondary school in Freetown, Educaid. It’s the only free secondary school in the country and still manages to score the highest in the national end of year exams. Well, I say free but, as one of the girls from my ‘Girl Power’ group explained to me recently, it’s not really free because they have to pay for their education with ‘excellent attendance, excellent participation and excellent motivation’! Their motivation can hardly be doubted, especially as the ‘summer school’, running 4 days a week in August from 8:30am through to 1pm is attended by over 200 students…

It could be argued that some need a little more motivation than others to succeed however, when you see that dozens of students sleep at the school because they have no home, or when you work with the ‘women’s group’, as I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. In the ‘Women’s Group’, young women catch up on the education that they were denied as little girls, sometimes because of the war, often only because of their sex. Ages range from 12 til mid-20s and many have a reading level of early primary school and so in the couple of mornings I’ve been helping Miriam and her staff, I’ve been doing reading exercises with a couple of groups of these young women.

Learning to read is an activity so closely associated with childhood that it is hard to find exercises that will be relevant to teenagers, let alone adults. While thinking of a way to get them to memorize the vowel sounds, I realised that they might not be particularly excited at the prospect of drawing a cat, a hen, a pig, a dog and a turtle… But their passion and willingness to read generally overcomes those drawbacks and they happily tuck into children’s books about dan the rat and other fascinating heroes.

One hurdle that might be harder to overcome is the cultural gap between the ‘western’ interests pictured in the books and their own lives: after reading ‘In the Park’, one student said there was one thing she didn’t understand. I was expecting tales of verbs, letters or syntax but instead, she looked at me completely puzzled and asked: “why would the children want to play with a bucket and sand?”


The tough streets of Kenema… by mabrajeux
June 8, 2010, 5:24 pm
Filed under: photos, public life, travels, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Here’s a few pics I took to document the street gangs of Kenema, the third largest city of Sierra Leone…

Kenema's feared street gang...

Continue reading

Mango pikin by jc2010sl
March 22, 2010, 10:21 pm
Filed under: nature - wildlife, society, travels | Tags: , , ,

On my way down to the beach yesterday I came across a novel sight – a group of boys picking mangoes. One had placed a ladder against the tree and climbed out of sight into the canopy. Periodic shouts from the foliage were followed swiftly by little green bombs falling to earth. Two boys at the bottom held taught a large sack, to catch the fruit as it fell.

Coming back, I saw the boys sitting in a circle as an archetypal African matriarch roundly chastised them. “Mango thieves?” I asked our guide for the day. “No, no,” he said, “it’s more complicated than that.”

The boys, it seemed, or at any rate their families, had owned the land. They’d sold it to the woman now berating them. But they claimed that when they’d sold the land, they hadn’t sold the tree that grew on it. I guess their argument was that they’d sold the freehold to the land rather than the leasehold on the tree.

It made for an amusing scene, but the problem is a serious one across Sierra Leone, where land ownership is frequently disputed. Disagreements often occur after someone has invested in land – typically by constructing something. Scores of people emerge claiming title to the land, and frequently the initial investor will walk away rather than fight a protracted legal battle.

It means numerous unfinished buildings all round Freetown, but worse than that, it’s holding back the country’s growth.

For the love of the game by jc2010sl
February 27, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

It’s a truism that football is a world game. More than that, it’s a world religion. People gather to play anywhere vaguely flat enough and large enough for 2 people to kick a ball. “Pitches” are hewn out of the steep side of the hill I live on, goal posts fashioned from a couple of sticks, and 3-a-side games played continuously. Where the sea levels the sand you’ll see locals making sandcastle goalposts and starting a game.

A hillside pitch in Freetown

Bureh Town FC

I got my first taste of action today with the “Expat All Stars”. The name is something of a misnomer since the majority of the players, and certainly the best, are all Salones. Amongst the team were a current top division player and a former Sierra Leone international – the latter is brother to Mohammed Kallon, one-time Inter player and business moghul of Freetown. The sun is so ferocious that games kick off at 8:30am. Today’s venue was the training pitch beside the National Stadium – one of the best pitches in the country. There was not a blade of grass on the entire pitch, which is essentially compacted sand.

The Training pitch in the "shadow" of the national stadium

Because the grip is so poor, and the surface so abrasive, there was no chance of my bringing my typical combative “style” to the game. Just as well as our opponents were the Armed forces team. Within 5 minutes of warming up I was utterly drenched, and by the end of my 20 min substitute appearance, utterly wrecked. I may not make it every week, but I hope to play more often than not.

In the late 1990s, Nike ran an advert in the UK featuring Eric Cantona et al turning out to play on Hackney marshes. “Your stars are like you” it implied; “they play for the love of the game.” I can’t imagine today’s Premiership names turning out for a park side at 8:30am on a Saturday, but here the love runs deep.